My Happy Marriage, Vol. 5

By Akumi Agitogi and Tsukiho Tsukioka. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon” by Fujimi L Bunko. Released in North America Yen On. Translated by David Musto.

Well, now I just feel bad. One of my go-to jokes about this series is the hideous irony of the title, after all. And in the Afterword the author says they worry about it as well, and asks readers not to constantly harp on it. So that’s half this review needing to be totally rewritten, then. That said, there are signs in this book that we are working our way there, if painfully slowly. Miyo still hates herself so much it’s almost suffocating, but is starting to realize (or be told point blank) that keeping everything to herself can actually be more painful than a possible rejection. She and Kiyoka have a scene where they share a bed (engineered, of course), and it’s as sweet as you’d expect, even though nothing happens, of course. And at the end of the book, we even get an explicit confession of love! Which, um, is actually tragically awful given… (waves vaguely at the cliffhanger)

We pick up where we left off, as the Emperor has been abducted. The Powers that Be make a decision to keep this quiet, which is not that hard given the Emperor is mostly a figurehead now anyway. That said, they really need to protect the prince from the bad guys now. They also need to protect Miyo, so make the decision to do both at the same time and have her staying at the palace, along with Kiyoka, Hazuki, and Yurie. Oh yes, and Arata, her faithful bodyguard. It should be a lot easier now, but there are still ominous rumblings. Miyo’s dreams about her mother and Usui turn out to be something he can talk back to her in, and he doubles down on destroying the world in order to teach it a lesson. Meanwhile, it turns out that the government and military is positively filled with traitors, and that’s bad news for Kiyoka in particular…

All of the My Happy Marriage books have rolled along on a sense of dread, and this one is no exception. We already know from the fourth book that Arata is working for the enemy, so the only question is whether he’s going to be a double agent or a triple agent. Usui is a wonderfully terrible villain, and the thing that pleased me most about the entire book was hearing that his arc should wrap up in Book 6, because I want to be nowhere near him again. The Education Minister’s secretary ends up being like something straight out of a horror movie, and in fact there is a fake climax to the book that reads like the end of a horror film. That said, this is the first book where The Bad Guys Win, and all seems lost. Thankfully, all seeming lost is what finally galvanizes Miyo to get off her ass and be proactive. I’m not sure I approve of her “I will do this by myself so as not to put anyone else in danger” attitude, but it’s otherwise nice to see, and terrific character development.

Still riveting, still fantastically written, still leaves you depressed. Great stuff.

My Happy Marriage, Vol. 4

By Akumi Agitogi and Tsukiho Tsukioka. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon” by Fujimi L Bunko. Released in North America Yen On. Translated by David Musto.

There is generally a habit in books, whether they’re “mysteries” or not, of trying to conceal a surprise twist. Keep the audience guessing, don’t let them figure out what the twist is until it’s too late. In practice, this is quite hard to pull off, and tends to lead to rolling of the eyes once the big reveal happens. As such, I always appreciate when a book doesn’t bother to do that and just says “let’s give it away on page 1”. Which is exactly what happens here, as there’s a traitor in the group that’s trying to protect Miyo, and the number of people tat it could possibly be amounts to one person. So we see that person approached by the villain immediately, in a prologue, and know who it is. Which is good, as it can then help with that this author really IS good at, which is giving readers an ulcer as they wait for the bad things to inevitably happen.

We pick up where we left off last time, with Miyo and Kiyoka beset by a man who claims to be her real father, and is also really, really smugly evil. Now Miyo can’t be left on her own , so she starts going to work and coming home with Kiyoka every day. She also gets a bodyguard, Kaoruko, one of the few women in the military in what is a very misogynistic unit. This means that Miyo has to deal with a) all the other members of the unit badmouthing Kaoruko and telling her to stay in the kitchen, and b) the fact that Miyo is associated with a family no one trusts and everyone seems to despise. You get the sense that the title of the series is getting further and further away, especially as they’re still not actually married yet.

So yeah, this book runs on dread. Not the dread of a horror novel, but the dread of a book about an abused daughter who is still viewing herself as the absolute worst being attacked on all sides. She has Kiyoka, who does the best he can, but she really needs more allies. Sadly, the one friend she makes, Kaoruko, turns out to be one of Kiyoka’s former potential fiancees, and clearly still has feelings for him, which sends Miyo into another spiral of self-loathing. Now, she does get one scene late in the book where she stands up and lets the sexist soldiers have it, but it’s sort of like eating a riceball made of needles in order to get to the tasty plum inside. Why read the series at all? The needles are also VERY tasty. This author knows how to write depression, anxiety, and melancholy, and Miyo is an extremely well-drawn woman.

So yes, we’re still not happy, and one subplot hints that we may see more double (triple?) agents. But this is still really good angst. The anime debuts next week, and should be exquisitely painful.

My Happy Marriage, Vol. 3

By Akumi Agitogi and Tsukiho Tsukioka. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon” by Fujimi L Bunko. Released in North America Yen On. Translated by David Musto.

Good news! After two trauma-inducingly depressing volumes of this series, we finally get a volume of My Happy Marriage that is working towards the title. That’s not to say that this volume is all sweetness and light – honestly, this series is never going to be that, I expect, until the final 5 pages of the last volume. But compared to the first two books, this is a pleasant walk in the park. Indeed, I wonder if the author thought the same thing, given that the entire subplot that is being investigated by Kiyoka seems like something invented to give the book a bit more drama and heft. Miyo is still suffering, of course, but this time it’s straightforward, normal abuse that we’ve seen in many, many series like this – the abuse of a mother-in-law who hates her son’s choice of wife. And while she and Kiyoka are not quite on the same page yet, they do at least now understand how the other person thinks.

Kiyoka and Miyo are invited by his father back to the Kudou mansion, as there needs to be a “meet the parents” event. The only trouble is that Kiyoka and Hazuki seem to have minimal respect for their father, and they both absolutely despise their mother. Neither one wants Miyo to be anywhere near her. Unfortunately, Kiyoka also gets an investigation that’s in the same town that his family home is, so and and Miyo (Hazuki can’t make it) have to go and meet Mommie Dearest anyway. It goes about as well as you’d expect, especially since Kiyoka has to be away from the mansion for the investigation much of the time, leaving Miyo to deal with her all on her own. And while this is going on, there’s a huge horned monster terrifying people near an out-of-the-way shack…

How much the reader enjoys this probably depends on how much they can tolerate Fuyu, Kiyoka’s mother and a thoroughly unpleasant woman. Her verbal abuse towards Miyo is loathsome, and the novel’s resolution appears to be a combination of “I have seen that you can be useful so I will allow the marriage” and “I am a 50-year-old tsundere, the worst kind”. Miyo still has horrible self-hatred issues, which don’t help when Fuyu is belittling her (she simply agrees with everything Fuyu says), but she rapidly realizes that the reason Fuyu’s abuse actually hurts her is that she’s now experienced what it’s like to be loved. The joy of being accepted makes the pain of rejection harder to bear. That said, Miyo still tends to ignore her own emotional despair, something literally pointed out to her by Kiyoka… who, to be fair, does the same thing.

I can see people disliking this book, mostly as Fuyu does not really suffer any consequences for her abusive behavior. That said, it honestly felt like a lighter, softer volume? Which probably says more about the first two in the series than it does about this one. Still valiantly hoping for the title to be accurate one day.